Over the weekend, it was reported that Kevin Spacey had signed onto a new film project, his first since an investigation brought to the forefront various allegations of sexual assault against young men, including minors. Spacey will star in The Man Who Drew God, which will be directed by the Italian actor and filmmaker Franco Nero and star his wife, Vanessa Redgrave. In 2017, actor Anthony Rapp had revealed the alleged incident, involving Spacey trying to force himself onto the then-14-year-old, in a conversation with Buzzfeed, which led to no fewer than 15 others alleging similar abuse.
According to the Guardian, the film is about a man, played by Nero, ‘who can draw people by listening to their voices, despite not being able to see and is wrongly accused of sexually abusing children.’ Yikes.
I must admit that I wearily expected this to happen. Perhaps it was somewhat naïve of me to expect that it would take a lot longer than three years for the film industry’s already flimsy concept of shame to disappear entirely. The pipedream of tangible long-term change following the imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein vanished in a puff of smoke, so it seems. Even at my most cynical, I clung to some sort of belief that even the international film industry, the market that welcomes Roman Polanski and Woody Allen with open arms, would reject the man accused of multiple instances of sexual assault, including instances against minors. Then again, see the continued successes of Allen and Polanski in Europe, wherein they are all but deified as unfairly censored artists kicked out of Hollywood.
Still, there is something about this Spacey news that has me somewhat flummoxed. I truly do not understand what there is for anyone to gain in working with Kevin Spacey. Sure, he’s a celebrated actor and if you really want to squint hard enough, you could make the (totally bullsh*t) case of art versus artist that we’re all exhausted with by now. Yet it’s not like we’re short of talented, award-winning actors who haven’t been accused of assaulting men and boys. No American distribution company will dare to pick up this movie because there’s no money in it. The same goes for various key international territories like the U.K. Plenty of critics will flat-out refuse to cover the movie, and boycotts seem inevitable. Is there any genuine benefit to hiring Kevin Spacey, or others like him? Or are the reasons far more pathetic?
Last week, it was revealed that the authorized biography of author Philip Roth by Blake Bailey had been picked up by a new publisher after it was dropped by W. W. Norton & Company. Norton made this decision after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and coercion of minors were made against Bailey. The company that picked it up is Skyhorse, an independent publisher perhaps best known for distributing endless conspiracy screeds on the JFK assassination as well as works by Alan Dershowitz, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone. Skyhorse is also the publisher that picked up the rights to Woody Allen’s memoir after Simon and Schuster dropped it. That title, Apropos of Nothing, is now a best-seller.
Aside from giving my usual rant about how cancel culture does not exist when it comes to those already embedded within the upper echelons of power, I bring this news up in relation to Spacey for a key reason. The notion of ‘cancelling’ someone for the misdeeds of their past has become hysterically weaponized by the right-wing (and many bland centrist columnists to boot) as a way to outright deny the concept of accountability. They’ve never been great at accepting responsibility for their crimes, but now they’re owning their abhorrent behavior as a sign of cultural value or even bravery. It’s a bragging right to claim the left tried to cancel you for no reason whatsoever, and there are plenty of people willing to fling their money at these martyrs who flung themselves upon the pyre as they goaded us over how triggered they made us. Consider the Trump fans who had to pretend to like Ariel Pink or latter-day Jon Voight movies, as if that would prove something. This already nonsensical act has moved beyond the parodic, especially when it comes to corporate entities and creatives loudly tying themselves to accused sexual harassers and rapists. What is there to gain, aside from the obvious monetary benefits? Even those are suspect. Aligning your financial future with individuals likely to be sued for assault seems like bad advice from one’s accountant.
This is the new norm, and yet even the Spacey news doesn’t make sense to me in this torrid context. Where is the cash-based benefit for hiring him: a man known for disrupting sets, one who is a walking hazard towards his colleagues and would be utterly impossible to insure? Where’s the glory in pumping all that money into an actor with zero reputation, no box office appeal, and a giant red flag for every critic and journalist to tear you to pieces for your heinous lack of decency? It’s sad that I even have to frame this in purely capitalistic terms because that remains more powerful in shutting down abuses than discussing the human cost.
It’s a strange marker of pride for the usual suspects to align themselves with the supposedly cancelled. It seems as though we’re now constantly besieged by wall-to-wall coverage of some garden variety racist bore telling eager newspapers, TV shows, and podcasts that they’re being silenced by some sinister cabal that’s more likely than not a handful of Twitter users. It does not matter how severe the accusation is or how justified the backlash; to this willingly blind herd, none of it matters.
A lot of this attitude is, of course, rooted in pure ignorance and spite, but with the Spacey news, I think there’s something deeper at play too. It’s the heightened version of the narcissism that puts ‘art’ above people. That’s the excuse we saw with the likes of Weinstein, although money also came into the equation far more with him than it does with Spacey. I imagine that Franco Nero sees his pig-headed decision as one of pure artistic merit. See, he doesn’t dare sully his vision with the cruelty of reality or professional nightmare of working with a walking workplace safety violation. He’s so much better than that. All that matters is the art. Not the people who make it, or watch it, or impacted by the systemic whitewashing of rape culture. It’s the ultimate display of arrogance to believe that art of any kind is so untouchably important as to be severed from the crimes and abuses of those who make it.
I’m already dreading the rollout for this film. Polanski is still a regular at film festivals so it seems horribly inevitable that we’ll see Spacey on a red carpet soon, and any journalist who dares to ask the necessary questions will probably be booed from the room. This cycle is exhausting and yet it continues. I’m terrified to think of which abusive sh*theel will be given the full artistic redemption arc next.
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